Friday, January 20, 2023

The 49ers’ assistant reveals the secret of Kyle Shanahan’s success

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What makes San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan such a special signalman? Is it insight from his father? His extensive experience working under celebrity head coaches like Gary Kubiak? Or is it maybe a combination of both? Well, according to offensive line coach/run game coordinator Chris Foerster, Shanahan’s greatest strength is his adaptability, as he told reporters during his Thursday week 20 media availability.

“Well, remember when he started coordinating in Houston,” Foerster said of 49ers WebZone. “He was a position coach for a year or two and next time he knows he calls plays, so that was before 2010 when I met him, so it was a couple of years, I don’t remember his first year as a coordinator. but since that time he’s been naming plays, so we do 12, 13, 14, 15 years where it’s been his system, his plays, his choice of words, his terminology and it builds on what he learned from his father, on what he is learned from [former NFL head coach] Gary Kubiak in Houston and what he’s done since, which has been outstanding. And if you own it like this, you can use it plug and play. You can see where things you’ve done match those skills or what we had [former NFL WR] Pierre Garcon at this point. He had [Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR] Julio Jones at this point. Now he has Deebo with him and what are the skills of these players? when we had [former NFL QB] Robert Griffin III, how we had to adapt to him and make everything work within our offense and still keep the core principles of that offense but still marry it to the zone read and things like that. Kyle, for me, I’ll mention him in every press conference because it’s his deal and yet he always managed to understand. He has such a great feel for it.”

Shanahan’s mastery of his offensive scheme is so complete that Rolodex can go through games the team hasn’t played in years, maximizing the team’s ability to attack opposing defenses in the game.

Further discussing Shanahan’s near-encyclopedic knowledge of his NFL offense, Foerster described a specific example from a drill where he wanted to give a name to a game, but it had to be changed based on the naming conventions of a look the team hadn’t executed in years.

“I remember we did a play this year and I wanted to give it a specific name and I called it that and we skipped it in practice,” Foerster said. “And he says, ‘You can’t call it that.’ I said why?’ Well, that’s a formation. I said, “Kyle, I haven’t heard that formation in two years,” but it’s in the book. It’s the formation. We can’t call it that. We had to change the name. I said, ‘Okay, it’s a formation and we hadn’t used it in a while.’ And this is the kind of stuff he remembers that goes back forever. And he’s obviously very smart and has a great memory, so there’s this whole encyclopedia or whatever you want to call it, just years and years of it.

This advanced knowledge of his offense has allowed Shanahan to stay alert during games to call the best game for the situation, even if it wasn’t on the call list for that particular game.

“And that’s why he’s able to mix and match and understand how it all works, because if you just have a full knowledge, three of the great pieces that we’ve done, okay, the piece at that [TE George] Kittle the touchline in Mexico that we had against Arizona,” added Foerster. “Kittle versus Washington and the 75-yarder versus Deebo. None of these three players were on the schedule. Not one of them. If you’ve seen the call log, if you’ve seen it held up, there’s a lot written on it. He says: “No, they do that, we’ll call that.” And he calls something based on what he sees in game that isn’t even on the list. And it’s usually big hits and big games because he just knows what’s going to work. And even though we made a plan for it, you’re like, oh, they’re doing this this week, so let’s go to it now and it’s forever. I’ve been amazed since I’ve been working with him and I don’t stop there. That’s just how he does it and it’s just his understanding of what he’s doing.”

Does the 49ers call regularly off the cuff? It depends on the situation, but being able to do that is a competitive advantage for Foerster.

While Shanahan isn’t unique in his ability to call spontaneous plays without practicing them throughout the week, Foerster is impressed with his ability to seemingly plan the right call at the right time to score points on the board.

“Yeah, a lot of guys can do that. I just always admire him for the timing,” Shanahan said. “If you name it, there’s just a lot that fits into it. Obviously you can say, “Hey, the corner bounces on the receiver, we’re going to call a double and throw a touchdown pass.” There are certain things and a lot happens. He’s really good at it, and if he knows, we’ve heard that before, but we’ve always gotten unseen looks because they really don’t want him to know what they’re doing, because when they do, he has a pretty good sense of what to do on his offense and how to do it. So for a guy like me it’s a real pleasure to work for him because when you do that he has direction as good as he wants you to go, so whether you’re a player, whether you’re an assistant coach are whoever you are, there is great guidance or direction because here is what you need to do to do your job. Here’s what you need to do to make this thing work.”

As the 49ers prepare for their toughest test yet, the Dallas Cowboys, who employ a defensive end in Micah Parsons, routinely move through the entire defensive formation to capitalize on discrepancies, Shanahan’s ability to react to what he has in front sees itself and reacting accordingly will be crucial to securing a win in week 20.

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